Welcome to a world in which suburban, big-box superstores sell all things marijuana-related. With pot nearly decriminalized in California, will the burgeoning retail chain weGrow become the Wal-Mart of weed? From Mother Jones:
On a Sunday in early October, Dhar Mann threw a party at weGrow, his hydroponic marijuana superstore in Oakland, California. Trailed by a three-person video crew from Hempire, the reality-show pilot he’s costarring in, Mann gave sound bites to a pack of reporters as he strutted past Ikea-style displays showcasing products for every stage of indoor cannabis cultivation—from Sun Pulse lightbulbs to $700 grow tents and Bud Candy plant nutrients. “It’s the whole supply chain,” said the fauxhawked 26-year-old, self-assured in a tailored gray suit and red silk tie.
Two years ago, Mann says, he had never seen a pot plant. Today, he envisions weGrow becoming the “Wal-Mart of Weed,” a vertically integrated chain of big-box stores perfectly positioned to cash in on California’s booming marijuana industry as it moves from the shadows to the mainstream. In this “green rush” for semi-legal weed, Mann and his partner Derek Peterson, a 36-year-old investment banker, seek to be the modern equivalents of Levi Strauss and Samuel Brannan—the Gold Rush entrepreneurs who made a killing not from mining, but from selling pans, pickaxes, and victuals to the forty-niners.
“Derek and I have really thought about how we can capture the entire market segment,” Mann says. Since it opened a year ago in a 15,000-square-foot warehouse near the Oakland International Airport, weGrow has aggressively tried to cover as many angles as possible: It trains aspiring medical marijuana growers at its University of Cannabis (the “Princeton of Pot”); manufactures its own brand of indoor growing gear (GrowOp); dispatches its hydroponics experts on house calls; and keeps a doctor onsite to write medical marijuana recommendations. Mann and Peterson say they’ve signed contracts to open 75 franchise stores in California, Oregon, Arizona, Colorado, and Illinois, and they’re talking up an IPO later this year.
Like Mann and Peterson, Oakland has come to embrace the financial side effects of medical marijuana. The city recently approved a package of permits and taxes for pot-related businesses that it estimates could bring in more than $10 million annually. WeGrow has already caught the eye of local politicians, including Jean Quan, a city council member who was elected mayor in November. On a stage outside the warehouse, Quan commended the company: “I want to congratulate Derek and Dhar. And I want to say that this is just probably the first step in California and perhaps the rest of the nation.”